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Inside Politics

Russian Bombs Hammer Ukraine's Cities; Zelenskyy Implores Congress For No-Fly Zone; Russian Forces Strike More Residential Buildings In Kyiv; Ukraine: Five Injured By Russian Fire On A Humanitarian Convoy Headed To Zaporizhzhia; Zelenskyy Delivers Direct Appeal To American Lawmakers; CNN: U.S. & NATO Allies Sending Air Defense Systems To Ukraine; Sen. Reed: Zelenskyy's Speech To Congress "Inspirational"; Zelenskyy Invokes Pearl Harbor, 9/11 In Passionate Plea To Congress. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 16, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your very busy, important news day with us. In 30 minutes, we'll hear from the president of United States. President Biden today ups the ante and America's military investment in Ukraine. We will hear from the president of United States just hours after a simply remarkable speech from Ukraine's president, being directly from Kyiv.

You see it right there into the halls of the United States Congress. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, imploring the West. Please close the skies over Ukraine, cut off Russian warplanes, he said. He also played this heart stopping, simply heart stopping video, featuring dramatic before and after scenes of now demolished Ukrainian cities. A ceaseless string of Russian violence and images of the maimed and the dead, including mass graves.

Zelenskyy tailored his speech to his audience, imploring American lawmakers and the American public. In doing so, he invoked the Founding Fathers. He invoked Pearl Harbor. He invoked 9/11. He invoked Martin Luther King Jr., and he finished in English, directly pleading with President Biden.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: The President Biden, you are the leader of the niche. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world, means to be the leader of peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: A British defense assessment, a new assessment warns Moscow now pulling reserves some other Russian installations all over the world, to reinforce its army in and around Ukraine. And you can see here from space, Russia's arsenal, severely damaged on the ground. But across Ukraine this hour, what its officials call the mass murder of civilians.

In Kyiv, a flash of orange than a trail of black smoke, signs of the renewed Russian barrage. Overnight, a Russian missile partially collapsing that 12-storey apartment building, you see right there. And in Mariupol, a drone's eye view of utter destruction. In Chernihiv, more graphic evidence of Russian brutality, bodies on charred pavement after official say a Russian strike blew up a breadline.

We start our coverage this hour at the White House and CNN's MJ Lee. MJ, the president will be out just a few moments. What do we expect to hear?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We know that when President Biden takes the stage any moment now, he is going to announce some $800 million an additional military assistance to Ukraine. And as a part of that announcement, he's also going to be announcing more anti-tank missiles and other defensive weaponry, including javelins and stingers. And to put all of this in context, that brings a total amount of U.S. aid that was announced just over the last week to $1 billion.

Now, two things that we also know President Biden will not announce when he speaks, the imposing of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, and also the transfer of these fighter jets that we have been talking about over the last several weeks. These are two measures that we know and have heard consistently from the administration that they are opposed to because they know that it will be perceived by Russia as highly escalatory. The president has said, this will be the launch of essentially World War III.

Now, this is going to be an announcement that goes into sort of the nuts and bolts of this. The additional measures that the U.S. will be announcing, but we can also expect that the president will likely directly address that we came - that we saw, rather earlier from the president of Ukraine because in particular, it was such a desperate plea directly to the president at certain moments of the speech.

Now, I also just want to note that we got a news this morning of high- level talks between the U.S. and Russia. This is National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, as well as the secretary of Russian Security Council, those two having a conversation. And the readout said that Sullivan had made clear to his counterpart that if Russia is serious about diplomacy, then the attacks on Ukraine needs to stop. John?

KING: MJ Lee, appreciate the important report from the White House as we await the president. Let's move up to Capitol Hill now, and our chief correspondent Manu Raju. Obviously, a very emotional appeal directly to Congress from the Ukrainian president today. When you were talking to lawmakers after, what stood out? MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of lawmakers really came out in support resolute in defense of what is happening in Ukraine, defending the Ukrainian presidents, praising the Ukrainian president and saying that more needs to be done, even if there's still debate and some division about exactly how far to go.

MJ mentioning the no-fly zone. That seems to be a no go among most members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and still debate between the two parties about whether those aircraft transfers would be a good idea or whether they escalate things to potentially cause World War III, but President Zelenskyy made his case directly to Congress and emotional plea invoked 9/11. He invoked Pearl Harbor, said this is essentially what is happening every day in his country, and he asked Washington to do more.



PRES. ZELENSKYY: If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative. You know, what kind of defense systems we need as 300 and other similar systems. You know, how much depends on the battlefield on the ability to use aircraft.


RAJU: Now, Washington has already approved roughly $14 billion in military and economic aid for Ukraine. But there is going to be a discussion and debate about how much further to go. There's a classified briefing that House members and senators are each having, among the key members later today, John, to give more context to what Zelenskyy was asking for. And undoubtedly that is going to shape the next phase of Washington's response to this crisis. John?

KING: Manu Raju, from Capitol, appreciate the important reporting. Manu, let's get to the situation on the ground in Ukraine. Now in Lviv, in the west of the country CNN's Scott McLean is stationed there. Scott, from your perspective there and we're seeing across the country more attacks, including in the capital, Kyiv this morning.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Seems to be part of a pattern, John. The latest attack in Kyiv on an apartment building shelling there, 37 people rescued, at least two injured but surely those numbers may well rise. A fire starting in that apartment complex. It seems that the Russians, given their apparent inability to actually penetrate into the city, seems satisfied for the moment to just lob bombs into the city instead to cause terror amongst the population. And it seems to be working.

There's a curfew in place right there. People have been told to stay in their homes. You have to hope that they're staying in bomb shelters instead, given the obvious danger. If there is good news in this country, it is that there is a trickle of people starting to get out of Mariupol, that besieged city in the southeast of the country that has been without food, water, power or heat for two weeks. Obviously, a dire humanitarian situation there. Some cars, more than 3,000 have been able to get out of the city on their way to Zaporizhzhia. But even once they get out, local officials say that the most recent convoy of about 70 private vehicles took artillery fire. Five people were injured. They say that one of them was a child and that is not the only danger waiting for them.

The city of Zaporizhzhia has also had strikes against civilian targets. One of them a train station, a secondary train station in the city. You can see it there, the building damaged, the track damaged as well, that artillery strike left a crater right on the tracks, though it only took about seven hours for that to be repaired and the trains to be back operational in that area.

There is obvious danger, it seems wherever you go in the country, and that is what makes the trip by these three prime ministers from the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Poland all the more remarkable. They arrived by train. Late last night, they met with President Zelenskyy. And then today, they are back safe in NATO territories.

I spoke with the CEO of Ukrainian railways earlier today. And he was obviously proud of being able to make that effort, have been proud that they chose to travel by train and the journey was relatively comfortable.

One thing that puzzled him though, John, was the fact that they announced their journey. While they were still in route to Kyiv before they had actually arrived. Obviously, there are clear security concerns, considering that the CEO himself continues to crisscross the country because he's worried himself about being a target of the Russians.

And so, he told me, I was keeping their secret. But when I saw something was published online, it surprised me. I didn't understand that. Still, he went on to tell me though, that it was important that they were there. It was a strong step, showing the support of the country in wartime and that was really important for us, even if it was naive. That's his words, John?

KING: One of the remarkable logistical challenges, security challenges in the middle of this mess. Scott McLean, grateful for the important reporting. Let's get some important perspective. Now from Capitol Hill, joining our conversation, the Democratic Senator from Rhode Island, Jack Reed. He's the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, grateful for your time on this day.

I want to quickly go through some of the important questions on the table about how best to help Ukraine. But first, I just want to start with the moment. What was it like somebody with your experience, one of eight United States senators in history graduate from West Point, to sit there and listen to a wartime president from Kyiv, asking for help and showing that heartbreaking video?

SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): Well, it was inspirational. He is a man of eloquence, but more importantly of courage. He has not abandoned his post. He has led from the front. And the video was very moving and very frankly, troubling seems of the carnage, that's taking place and the deliberate destruction by the Russians of not only facilities but of people, and we have to do all we can conceivably do to prevent that.

KING: So, let's go through that list. And let's go through that list as quickly as we can. A lot of your colleagues, mostly Republicans, but even many Democrats, say give him the MiGs, give Ukraine the MiGs, take the MiG-29 Russian made fighter jets, Soviet made jets that Poland has offered and give them to Ukraine. You say that as a distraction because they simply couldn't fly them effectively anyway, explain?


REED: Well, they have a number of MiG aircrafts itself and they're flying very few sorties, that could be a combination of lack of support, mechanics, fuel, the safety of the pilots in the air, the lack of pilots, a much more credible way to provide for air support to the Ukrainian is to provide missile system, SA-5, for example of our Russian missile systems that many of our allies have. And also, the Ukrainians have some familiarity with these systems because they've used them themselves.

KING: So, you see the intelligence center, is that happening? People are promising help. Are they delivering help? You mentioned the Russian made system. So, Bulgaria, Greece, Slovakia, among those who have Russian made anti-aircraft systems that fire higher than the American systems that we have provided? Ukraine says, they're desperately needed. Are they putting them on rail cars on flatbeds? Are they crossing the border into Ukraine? Or is this still a convert a promise not a delivery?

REED: Well, I think it is in process, but I cannot comment on the exact status. It represents, I think, a very credible, in fact, a much more effective counter response to the Russians than the MiGs. And we're going to try to do all weekend to help the Ukrainian government.

KING: If you watch the Russian attacks in recent days, and I know you are, we did see in the last 72 hours or so an expansion to the west, where they've hit several air bases out in the western part, which would be critical. Obviously, you'd have to break things across from NATO countries. Now. I assumed by land, either on flatbed trucks or on railways, but then you need military places to stage them. Do you believe the Russians are trying to essentially cut off or at least complicate the NATO supply line into Ukraine?

REED: Oh, absolutely. That is the first response to our supplies coming in. They want to stop them. They feel if they could cut off the supply lines, they will eventually literally starve out the Ukrainian opposition. So, we have to anticipate that we have to find security as ways to get systems into the country. And we knew Ukrainians been very adept so far at being able to camouflage his equipment, move it surreptitiously, and then engage them very effectively. And they'll continue to do that. The Ukrainians have demonstrated all the great courage but great skill. KING: Putin is a master of stalling. He did this in Chechnya where he said, we're willing to talk, we're willing to talk, we're willing to talk as his armies' devastated communities and killed people. Do you see anything in the reports you get? Again, that we don't see publicly, that gives you any hope that there's actual progress being made in any of this diplomacy. Or is it Putin just buying time while he shells Ukraine?

REED: Well, we're seeing a report publicly and can't comment on intelligence. But we're proceeding reports publicly, that the tone is changing, et cetera. But as you point out, this could be just more of happy talk, while he continues to devastate the country. I think the difference though, in Chechnya, Georgia and other places is that the range of sanctions and the unity of the international community is something he did not anticipate, and he has never seen before.

And that pressure, which is building up, which is being demonstrated by brave Russian to take into the streets and protest, and even getting on TV for a moment. That I think is going to be the critical factor that convinces him to find a way out.

KING: The urgent challenge today, Senator, and tomorrow and next week, will be what you're talking about in terms of what can we do to best help Ukraine right now. We will hear from the president in about 15 minutes and what he plans to do to escalate that effort. But what are the conversations among you and your colleagues about what this does to the global security infrastructure and to the American security infrastructure?

When you and I first crossed paths, it was about 35 years ago, you had just been elected to the Rhode Island state Senate. I was a young AP reporter. There were more than 300,000 American troops in Europe at that time. That was just a couple of years before the Berlin Wall fell. The DOW, U.S. troop levels before this, before Putin's invasion, were down well below 100,000. Where are we heading? Are we heading back to something like the late 1980s, early 1990, something in between? What conversations are you having?

REED: Well, we're heading to something that is even more complicated than the 1980s. We're looking at China, who is building up a significant nuclear arsenal. They really didn't have one 10, 20 years ago, and we're looking at Russia with a significant nuclear arsenal. So, this is the first time in the history of the world where we will have a trilateral nucleolar power confrontation or at least continued situation. That's one factor.


Will we increase our force in Europe? Yes, but the encouraging factor. There is Germany has stood up, other countries will stand up. We will together a very, I think more effective force against Russia. And then again, we've demonstrated by the sanctions that we have another tool in our toolbox, which probably 20 years ago, we would not have been as effective and would not have been as rapidly deployed.

KING: This one's a yes or no Senator because we're short time. But do you believe that those who for 25 plus years have said, if we just invite Putin to the club, if we just slap them on the wrist when he does things. Is that over? Is what's happening in Ukraine now proof that what you just talked about, beefing up the U.S. infrastructure to make sure the Europeans are in it, not just for the next six months, but for the next 6, 10 plus years? Are we in a new chapter?

REED: We are indeed in a new chapter.

KING: Senator, appreciate your time. Jack Reed, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. We will keep in touch Senator.

REED: Thank you very much.

KING: Thank you, sir. Ahead, trying to live and govern while under attack. Kyiv remains under curfew. You see right there another residential building bombed. A member of Ukraine's parliament joins us next.




KING: Russian warships in the Black Sea are shelling areas close to the city of Odessa. That is a key port in the southern region of Ukraine, the country's third largest city and it has been seen as a key target for Russia. Let's get to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. She is right there live for us in Odessa. Nick, what are you seeing and what are you hearing?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, John. Over the last 10, 15 minutes, we've been hearing pretty sustained bursts of anti-aircraft fire. It seems that we can't quite tell where they're shooting from or what they're shooting at. But it's doesn't sound remotely like anyone testing their weapons. So, it's kind of in that direction. Similar to where we have in the past heard bursts like that, but we'd say, we haven't heard anything quite as persistent as this since we got here about three weeks ago.

Now, this fits into a broader picture, John, of increased tensions around Odessa, third largest city in Ukraine, its major port onto the Black Sea. Along that Black Sea coasts, Russia has been pressuring the Ukrainian military. Taking one of the key ports Kherson, pressuring currently and trying to encircle. Another one Mykolaiv, the goal, ultimately being here, Odessa.

Now in the past 24 hours or so, Ukrainian officials have talked about downing two Russian jets nearby to here. And they've also talked about how Russian ships have been shelling parts of the coastline in seams in a bit to try and probe Ukraine's air defenses here. But this noise that we've been hearing here, as I say, fits into this broader. There is again.

Now, I should say this is not something that we are accustomed to hearing it at all. And while we have occasionally heard bursts of gunfire like this at dusk, this has been going on now for about 20 minutes. And so, I think it feeds into the anxiety in this city. And that felt amongst officials too, that this is essentially the next time if along the Black Sea coast for the Russian military.

And the scenes around Mykolaiv, which we saw over the last three days, show Russian forces that appear to have tried to sweep round to that cities north to perhaps encircle it and also appear to be pushing up from the south east of it to up from Kherson city, which they currently hold. That fight in Mykolaiv is key. It will essentially free up Russian forces potentially to move on to here or allow them simply to bypass it and move on towards Odessa.

But the noise we've been hearing behind us here, I've said our departure. They say feed into these persistent warnings. We've been hearing from Ukrainian officials of possibly some sort of amphibious assault, which sounds when you said, absurdly ambitious and hazardous for, obviously not only the people living here, but the Russian forces attempting something as complex as that. But tonight, the bus of anti- aircraft gunfire certainly, I think will put a city already barricading its key streets, significantly more on edge, John?

KING: Nick Paton Walsh, grateful for the live reporting. And for you and your team there, stay safe, as we watch this play out. Nick, thanks so much. We're waiting for President Biden at the White House, his response, his promise of more help, hours after a remarkable address to Congress by Ukraine's President Zelenskyy. We'll be right back.




KING: Just moments away now from the president of United States responding, speaking on the crisis in Ukraine. That event at the White House any minute now. His reaction to address this morning, a remarkable address from the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy.

Calling on the United States to help close Ukraine's airspace as Russian forces continue their assault across the country but especially today, in Kyiv. President Zelenskyy choosing his words carefully. His passionate blue reference ideals of freedom, democracy, pursuit of happiness, dreams and attacks carried out on American soil.


PRES. ZELENSKYY: We need you right now. Remember Pearl Harbor, terrible morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was a black from the plains attacking you. Remember September the 11th, when innocent people were attacked, attacked from air. Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death. I have a dream. These words are known to each of you today. I can say, I have any, I need to protect our sky.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast, Olivier Knox, The Washington Post, Sabrina Siddiqui of The Wall Street Journal. We have seen the British House of Commons first, the Canadian Parliament just the other day, and now to the United States Congress.

This is a president who A, is a world icon right now for defiance and democracy. But he knows how to target his message to his audience. 9/11, Pearl Harbor, Martin Luther King, speaking not just to the Congress but to the American people, essentially saying, you know, A, I need you in this fight, and B, this fights not going to be over soon.

JACKIE KUCINICH, SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR FOR THE DAILY BEAST: Well, and as someone who has been observing what's happened, he's seen the Congress really leaving the White House and pushing the White House to do things, that perhaps they wouldn't have done things like banning Russian oil, something that the White House really didn't want to do.